Meet Bridget Johnston

Published: 21 June 2016

Professor Bridget Johnston has joined the University as the Florence Nightingale Foundation Chair in Clinical Nursing Practice Research.

Professor Bridget Johnston joined the University of Glasgow on 1 May as the Florence Nightingale Foundation Chair in Clinical Nursing Practice Research in the School of MVLS. She is the first person to ever hold the role in Scotland.

The new Professorship is the result of a partnership between the University, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and the Florence Nightingale Foundation.

Bridget said: “It’s exciting to be the first person to fill this role in Scotland.  The role involves both working as an academic at the University and as a practising nurse. In nursing it is fairly unique to split your time between both.”

Supporting clinical academics

Bridget JohnstonOne of Bridget’s goals in her new position is to encourage nurses to become clinical academics.

She said: “It’s unusual for nurses with PhD’s to have jobs in clinical practice. In nursing it tends to happen that the higher up you go the further away from the patients you get. If you are a patient in hospital or the community you are unlikely to be cared for by the most experienced nurses and that seems wrong to me. I’m also interested in encouraging nurses with PhD’s to stay in practice.”

From London to Glasgow

Bridget knew she wanted to follow a career in nursing from a young age.

“I can’t remember a time that I didn’t want to be a nurse,” she said.

After training in nursing at St Bartholomew's Hospital (Barts) in London, Bridget’s first job was in an acute oncology ward. Following this she pursued a full time degree in nursing in Cardiff.

Bridget said: “My route into nursing is slightly different to how it works now as I was already a fully trained nurse before completing a nursing degree. I knew early on in the degree that I wanted to go into teaching nursing so I completed a PCGE teaching qualification alongside the degree.”

She went on to teach on wards as a clinical teacher and through studying and working Bridget developed an interest in palliative and end of life care. This has become her main research area.

Her next role, as a Macmillan lecturer, involved teaching nurses in the subject of care of the dying. Throughout this Bridget was keen to maintain clinical links mainly through working in hospices.

In 1995 Bridget moved to Scotland and took a position as a lecturer at Strathcarron hospice in Stirlingshire. A role which she undertook for 11 years, teaching a range of courses at all levels.

Bridget said: “The hospice was a lovely place to work. Many people might think it would be a sad place but it’s quite the opposite. People use humour and hospices are usually very homely.”

While working at Strathcarron Bridget completed a PhD at the University of Glasgow.

Bridget said:I had one child during the PhD and I was pregnant at my Viva. Doing a PhD, having two kids and working full time is a crazy way to do a PhD. I would never recommend it!”

In 2006 Bridget became the first nurse to be awarded a funded post doc by Medical Research Scotland. She carried out the two year post at Stirling University on the subject of self-care in advanced cancer. Next Bridget moved to the University of Dundee, then onto her first Professorship at the University of Nottingham.

While working at Nottingham Bridget’s current role at the University became available.

Bridget said: “When I heard of the job here at the University of Glasgow, I thought that job is made for me!

“I’ve kept a clinical link in every job I’ve had and looking forward to continuing that in Glasgow.”

End of life research

Prof Bridget Johnston, ProfDavid Clark and Dr Hamilton Inbadas‌The main focus of Bridget’s research is around dignity in the end of life. One of her studies involves testing an intervention for health professionals caring for patients in hospitals in the last year of life by having the health professional ask the patient the ‘Patient Dignity Question’.

This question is ‘What do I need to know about you as a person to give you the best possible care?’ The health professional writes a short summary of the patient’s answer which is then shared with other people caring for the patient.

Bridget said: “It’s such a simple intervention but it brings the focus back to the person rather than the illness. It really does illuminate things you didn’t know about the patient and my hypothesis is this will improve patient centred care.”

The question was originally developed by Professor Harvey Max Chochinov in Canada and Bridget is the first person to trial the question in the UK and has developed it by focusing on patients with palliative care needs.

After carrying out a pilot study in Dundee which yielded positive results Bridget plans to continue the research with a wider sample in Scotland and England.

Bridget has also developed work which aims to help nurses caring for people at home in their last months of life.

Bridget said: “It’s easy for us as health professionals to think we know what is best for a patient. However often what most bothers the patient is not what the professional presumes is bothering them.

“My intervention helps to focus on exactly what is bothering the patient most. For example, you might think a patient’s pain is the what is most upsetting for them however they might be more worried about how their family will cope when they die. I believe it’s important to address what is bothering the patient most to provide the best person centred care you can.”

Bridget has developed this work in the Scotland. England, and Ireland and now hopes to take it to a Europe wide study.

Since joining the University of Glasgow, Bridget has become part of the ‘End of Life Studies Group’ based at the Dumfries campus.

She said: “It’s nice for me to join a university where there is already a body of people undertaking research in the area of end of life studies. I look forward to having links with the group.”

Nursing practice vs academia

The route to training as a nurse has changed over the years by becoming more academic than ever before and the University of Glasgow regularly tops league tables for nursing.

Bridget said: “Nurses do need more academic skills for lots of reasons. The job is more complicated than it was 20 or 50 years ago as with advancements in medicine and technology people are living for longer, thus are faced with more serious illnesses. Nurses have to make more complicated decisions than years ago so an academic grounding is very important.

“However the practical side of nursing remain as important as ever. You could not learn to be a nurse solely through books. Maintaining my practice as a nurse has been very important to me throughout my academic career and I am particularly looking forward to having the opportunity to support other nurses to do more research while in practice in my new role at the University.”

Quick questions

What do you like to do outside work?
I like spending time with my family, my two teenagers and husband. I also love watching soaps; I’m a big fan of EastEnders and Corrie.
What’s your favourite place in the world?
Somewhere sunny, where I can relax.
If you could be an animal, what type of animal would you be?
An elephant - I absolutely love elephants! They are lovely animals, they look after their families and they actually grieve.
If you could have a superpower what power would you choose?
I’d choose invisibility. I’d love to be a fly on the wall because I’m a bit nosey!
Who inspires you?
My mother inspires me because she was an amazing woman. She had characteristics we often don’t value today; she was warm, kind and was good friend, wife and ultimately mother to me and my siblings.

First published: 21 June 2016